Movie Diary 1/30/2023

Master (Mariama Diallo, 2022). A mix of horror and race, set at an Ivy League-ish school where a new student (Zoe Renee) struggles with the white-on-white culture and a new master (Regina Hall) breaks a glass ceiling, only to find the same old ceiling in place. The horror feels half-hearted, but the concept is effective, and the setting vivid. There’s a creepy subplot involving Amber Gray’s professorial character, and you want the movie to keep tilting in that direction.

Bananas (Woody Allen, 1971) and Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex* but Were Afraid to Ask (Woody Allen, 1972). In these scrappy films lurk many of the best jokes of Allen’s career, or, at least, many of the silliest. The sketch nature of Sex makes it interesting for the way it allows Allen to operate in a short form and parody other styles, working ideas for 10-15 strong minutes instead of padding something to feature length. Whether Allen is actually a director yet is an open question.

Movie Diary 1/29/2023

The Whale (Darren Aronofsky, 2022). He can’t do much with his body – a combination of fatsuit and digital effect – so Brendan Fraser does a lot with his face and voice, an impressive achievement. There are moments when Fraser zigs when you expect the moment to zag, and he keeps the material alive even when the script falls into conventional grooves. Which it does all too frequently (Fraser’s housebound character is trying to connect with a teenage daughter in his final days). Hong Chau and Samantha Morton provide stellar support – I guess you have to give Aronofsky credit for hiring the best actors around and letting them do their thing.

The Friday 1/27/2023

Maika Monroe: Watcher (IFC)

No piece for the Scarecrow blog this week.

But thanks to all who joined us online for a Scarecrow Academy Zeitgeist ’23! talk. For the record, my list of “Overlooked Films of 2022” consisted of:

Watcher (Chloe Okuno)

Happening (Audrey Diwan)

Tahara (Olivia Peace)

The Wonder (Sebastian Lelio)

Flux Gourmet (Peter Strickland)

Three Minutes: A Lengthening (Bianca Stigter)

Utama (Alejandro Loayza Grisi)

My Old School (Jono McLeod)

No new radio show this week, but we have a couple coming down the pike.

Movie Diary 1/24/2023

A reminder: Tomorrow, 7 pm Thursday 1/26, we’ve got a free online session of Scarecrow Video’s Zeitgeist ’23! series, in which I talk about “Overlooked Films of 2022.” Sign up here!

Movie Diary 1/23/2023

Resurrection (Andrew Semans, 2022). I wanted to like this more, and it has some appealing attributes: big Rebecca Hall performance, an unusually dialed-in Tim Roth giving creepy support, surprisingly distinctive location work in – Albany, N.Y.? Somehow the whole thing doesn’t get over the line, even though Hall – as a mother confronted, apparently, with a stalker and a past trauma – puts the film on her back and carries it a convincing distance.

The Lost King (Stephen Frears, 2022). Sally Hawkins plays the real-life amateur historian who led the charge to dig up Richard III’s bones, which were found in 2012 beneath a parking lot in Leicester. The movie is certainly formula, but it’s well-managed for that kind of thing, and Hawkins makes it easy to enjoy. Steve Coogan co-stars and co-wrote the screenplay. There’s a notably muscular score by Alexandre Desplat.

Movie Diary 1/22/2023

What’s Up, Tiger Lily? (Woody Allen, Senkichi Tanaguchi, 1966). Quite a bit of blissful silliness, plus padding. The most surprising thing, seeing it again after many years, is how deliberate the pace is; any modern sitcom moves so much quicker. The sexism of the era is of course thick.

Take the Money and Run (Allen, 1969). The Woodman’s first real directing credit, full of sight gags and physical humor. There’s a full-program interview with Allen on the Dick Cavett show circa 1971, and he says there that he wanted his first movies to look “sloppy,” as though anything could happen, and he certainly gets that knockabout quality here. The quasi-mockumentary set-up looks ahead of its time, from our perspective. The gaggery is indelible, even if uneven, and the scenes with Janet Margolin are weirdly sincere, considering the goofy surroundings.

Play It Again, Sam (Herbert Ross, 1972). Ross’s direction has a “let’s liven this up” tendency that I don’t care for, but there are so many funny things in the movie it hardly matters. The scene with the nihilistic woman in the art museum remains a signature Allen bit, one of his greatest.

The Friday 1/20/2023

Bing Crosby, Rosemary Clooney: White Christmas

My piece for the Scarecrow blog this week, and etc.

Top Gun.

I have a new episode of “The Music and the Movies” this week: winter films. Dr. Zhivago meets Bing Crosby, Bernard Herrmann joins Ennio Morricone, and Glenn Miller journeys to Sun Valley. Listen at the Voice of Vashon page.

Thursday night, January 26, Scarecrow’s Zeitgeist online series returns with yours truly outlining the Overlooked Films of 2022. And you’ll be there to nominate your own titles. Join us at 7 pm for this free Zoom session.

Movie Diary 1/17/2023

Alice, Darling (Mary Nighy, 2022). Anna Kendrick stars in a moody/minimalist study of a woman in a controlling relationship, which we mostly see from the perspective of her two besties during a getaway week. The film is trying hard, and Kendrick is capable, and it almost seems churlish to point out the stuff that doesn’t come to life.

Emily (Frances O’Connor, 2022). Went to see this at the Palm Springs International Film Festival because I was curious about what O’Connor, an interesting actress, would do with her writing-directing debut. Hmm. The movie is a heavy-breathing goof on the life of Emily Bronte, seen here as a kind of proto-beatnik at odds with sister Charlotte and inspired by bohemian brother Branwell. There’s also an affair with the local pastor – a series of events, in short, to explain the question put to Emily in the film’s opening moments: How did she write a book as “ugly” as Wuthering Heights? The film is patient and exacting with its detail, but mostly comes down to very familiar conclusions about repressive British behavior and the seemingly 21st-century hawtness of its lead actress, Emma Mackey.

R.M.N. (Christian Mungiu, 2022). Mysterious and provocative film from one of Romania’s leading directors, initially slowed a bit by an impassive leading man, but then snapped into focus when we arrive back at his Transylvanian home village (which is not coincidentally when the actress Judith State, whose character manages an industrial bakery, appears). Good old-fashioned bigotry rears its shaggy head, and the movie climaxes in a notable one-unbroken-shot town-hall meeting – a parallel, presumably coincidental, with Radu Jude’s Bad Luck Banging, where the sophisticated urbanites were no less steeped in prejudice than these rural villagers.

Movie Diary 1/16/2023

RRR (S.S. Rajamouli, 2022). Have the critics going gaga over this thing seen Bollywood movies before? I wonder. Still, it’s great fun, crude and broad in its storytelling, with two bountifully charismatic stars who can do anything. The direction of the action sequences is so energetic it’s as though Rajamouli thought “I wonder if topping Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom is a reasonable goal?” and then figured out how to out-zany Spielberg beat for beat.

Il Boemo (Petr Vaclav, 2022). A well-dressed musical biopic, overlong but generally enjoyable, of the Czech composer Josef Myslivecek, a Mozart contemporary and friend. Nothing too earth-shaking here, but it should be noted that the actresses who play the serial interests of the composer are an extraordinary group, including Lana Vlady and Barbara Ronchi. The first meeting with baby Mozart is one of the Brush with Greatness scenes you expect from this kind of film, and it’s a good one: Myslivecek looking on agog as lil’ Wolfie improvises a brilliant variation on a Myslivecek theme.

The Friday 1/13/2023

Ryan O’Neal: Barry Lyndon

No piece for Scarecrow this week. I’m at that film festival.

I do have a new episode of “The Music and the Movies” for somebody’s listening pleasure: The title is Classical Kubrick. The story here about how Stanley K junked Alex North’s score for 2001 and stuck to the classics, plus great cuts from A Clockwork Orange, Barry Lyndon, and Eyes Wide Shut. Listen at the Voice of Vashon page here.